Vision Logo Circle

Who Were The Sadducees? Pt 1

by | Tue, Jul 26 2022

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I think it’s easy for Christians to look at the divisions within Judaism in Bible days and scoff a little at them and how foolish they were, however, in Christendom, there are soooo many to choose from. There’s Roman Catholicism which has many different groups including the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Benedictines, the Jesuits and so many more, there’s the western side and the eastern side. Restorationism, within Protestantism you have Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Pentecostals, reformed and independent churches. Then there’s Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Nestorians which includes the Assyrian church of the east, there’s the Coptic churches throughout the Middle East and so many more.

Within all those groups are literally thousands of denominations and splinter groups and independent churches. So, we really don’t have much right to criticise the Jews.

The Sadducees were both religious and political…mostly political…and they held a great deal of power among the Jews in Israel. Unlike the Pharisees who were primarily spread throughout the land, leading congregations, teaching in synagogues and dealing with matters of Jewish law and jurisprudence, the Sadducees were mostly holding all the priestly positions.

The name Sadducees means ‘the righteous’, which is quite haughty, especially in light of the fact that they weren’t especially righteous. If the Pharisees were the conservatives of ancient Israel, the Sadducees were the liberal, progressives of the day.

They were also known as Zadokites because they were believed to have been established by a man named Zadok in around 2 BC during the days of King David. They were the aristocrats of Israel, they tended to be wealthy and held very powerful positions, as I said, mostly as priests and they also held the highest positions of Chief Priest and High Priest. They also held the majority of the 70 seats of the ruling council known as the Sanhedrin.

If you know anything about the establishment of the Jewish priesthood according to the Law of Moses, you’ll know that the priests had to come from the blood line of Aaron, Moses brother, who were from the tribe of Levi. Not all Levites could be priests, only the blood relatives of Aaron, however, because of the wickedness of some of his descendants, – the family of Eli – another line from the priest Zadok was established. Not all Sadducees were his descendants however, but that’s how this group came to be known or named. (1 Sam 2)

Josephus, the Jewish historian recorded that Caiaphas, the High Priest who plotted Jesus’ execution, was in fact appointed to the position of High Priest by the Roman prefect Valerius Gratus in 18 AD. He was Pontius Pilate’s predecessor. Caiaphas was later deposed by the Roman proconsul, Lucius Vitellius the Elder. So, when it came to important roles within the Jewish priesthood and Sanhedrin, Rome played an integral part and it was for political expediency. Rome wanted politically-minded Jews who would tow the line and keep the troublesome Jews in line, and what better way to do that, than with the most senior religious authorities of the Jewish people…the priests…the go-betweens between the people and their God.

I need to stress that not all priests were Sadducees, but the majority were. Not all the Sanhedrin were Sadducees, but again, the majority were, so they absolutely held the majority of power.

Like the Pharisees, the Sadducees had their own particular brand of theology, beliefs and traditions. The Pharisees as we talked about last time, loved building fences around God’s Word, adding layer upon layer of additions rules and regulations to ensure there was never a chance to inadvertently break the original law. This of course made life unbearable and incredibly hard. The Sadducees used to mock the Pharisees for their debates and fanatical tenacity over the most inane details…like whether or not people would be clothed or naked at the resurrection, but keeping the people in a constant state of failure was good for business in the Temple. Every time someone broke one of the fence rules, off to the Temple they went to make sacrifice and this meant money in the coffers of the priests.

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their additional burdens on their people, but He also rebuked the Sadducees and warned the people against their corruption.

After a visit from the Pharisees and Sadducees, where they tried to test Jesus by asking for a sign, Jesus response was pretty brutal.

Matthew 16:4, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign won’t be given it, except the sign of Jonah.”’

Later in the chapter Jesus gives a warning.  Matthew 16:6, ‘Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beward of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” In verse 12, after He explained what He meant, the disciples realise that he was talking about their teaching, their doctrines, and not to accept or believe them.

Next time we’ll look at some of the beliefs of the Sadducees, as well as their social and political responsibilities.